Dance in the Digital Age

Good morning and welcome back to my life. Today’s musings might be a little disjointed, as I don’t have a central thesis beyond WOO SCIENCE. Let’s dive in, shall we?

So those who know me IRL know that I don’t actually dance for a living–rather I am an engineer at Evil Big Pharama, Inc to pay the bills. (joking, I swear. It’s a decent company and we do good things for people who are dying.) My college degree is in Bioengineering, I work in Chemical Engineering, and I’m generally fascinated by all things science and technology. Given that I am an enterprising person, it is therefore not much of a stretch to consider that I may want to combine these interests. Every since people stopped using oil lamps and began employing sound systems and gel stage lights, dance and tech have intermingled. But really what I care about is the next frontier–interactive sets, robots, and more!

I’ll briefly mention two that, frankly, are worth their own posts. The Japanese “motion graphic performing arts” group Enra has done some very innovative pieces with interactive lights, seen in their youtube channel. Another project I drool over is this one, a fantastical marriage of motion-capture, robot-mounted camera tracking, and ballet. More on this next week.

My own brief foray into combining dance and tech was recent–Ballroom, spring semester 2014.  I wanted to do a West Coast Swing piece to “Distirbia” by Rhianna–I’ve always liked the dutch-angle wierdness and driving beat of the song. I had this slightly nuts idea to cover my dancers in lights and dance in the dark–a la that creepy walking baby video going around a couple years ago.

Let it be noted that whenever I say “I’ve got this crazy idea” I may just actually follow through. I thought, poked around the internet, and decided to buy EL wire in various colors, sew them and their power source into the dancers’ costumes, and have a psychedelic light show with our ballroom. EL wire, for those not familiar, is ‘electroluminescent wire’–a copper core is covered with a thin layer of phosphorous and then colored plastic, and when it is excited with an AC (alternating) current, it gives off a steady glow. (Also a steady high-pitched whine, but that’s a function of the alternator circuitry.)

The challenges were multitudinous. It took hours to sew the lights on to the costumes, a process that required everyone to model in the pants and shirt as we stitched around them. The costumes were hard to get on and off due to the mis-match in material stretch between the spandex and the stiff wire. The AC/DC converters everyone had to wear on their waist were bulky, the wire connections fragile, and they ate up batteries like a whale shark through a shoal of plankton. There was an incident where one dancer’s battery went dead in the middle of the show, a debacle where one converter ripped loose and went flying offstage due to a vigorous spin, and a time where I literally had to solder myself into my costume to keep the delicate wires connected to the battery.

Still, the “OOOO” of the crowd went we turned on the lights in time to the music was worth all the mishaps and hi-jinks. There was one unforgettable moment where I managed to convince the Carrier Dome staff to dim the lights in that grandiose stadium for our show at Relay for Life. Yes, as one dancer and friend said, we looked a bit like creepy halogen zombies, but I don’t care. This is one experiment that has motivated me to try and find new ways to bring ballet and ballroom into the next millennium.

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